What marketers must do to appeal to Gen Z

by Nigel Hollis | January 16, 2017

The latest AdReaction: Gen X, Y, and Z study confirms that marketers will have to work much harder if they are to reach and motivate the digitally-oriented Gen Z audience. To do so they will need to understand the underlying motivation behind generational differences and not just accept the difference at face value.

Gen Z are the first generation to be digitally-oriented from birth. Across the 40 countries surveyed in AdReaction 74 percent of Gen Z respondents claim to spend an hour or  more a day on their mobile device compared to 55 percent for Gen X. In common with other generations three quarters of Gen Z claim to spend over an hour a day on their laptop but they are less likely than older people to spend time with TV, magazines or newspapers.

If anything this digital orientation makes Gen Z even less receptive to digital advertising than prior generations. Particularly compared to Gen X they are more likely to try to avoid ads and value control over them. In the U.S., 69 percent of Gen Z claim to take physical actions to avoid ads – like looking away or switching attention to another device - and 51 percent resort to ad blocking software. Gen Z value control and hate interruption, as a result they are more likely to skip ads and are quicker to do so than older generations.


The clear message coming from AdReaction is that in order to reach and engage Gen Z marketers are going to have to work harder than ever to create a value exchange that these younger people find worthwhile. That exchange could be substantive in nature – like mobile app rewards or relevant branded content – or entertaining. Gen Z particularly value ads that tell an interesting story, have good music or are funny. A good example of an ad that appeals to this generation is Oreo’s ‘Wonderfilled’ which combines playful animation with a catchy song to tell a story (to my mind somewhat reminiscent of Dumb Ways to Die).

All this said, if marketers are to really engage this new generation they must ensure that they are appealing to the underlying motivation which may be the same as other generations, simply expressed differently because of the opportunities Gen Z have grown up with. If a difference exists because of a change in motivation a brand will likely need to change strategy to engage the new generation, potentially requiring a complete repositioning. A difference in context may simply require a brand to adapt its tactics and execution.

In AdReaction: Gen X,Y, and Z we find Gen Z to be more likely to agree that they are more positive toward ads when they can interact with them by voting or choosing between story lines and endings (although the desire for involvement is clearly secondary to their desire for control over advertising). Does this desire really differentiate Gen Z from Y and Z, or, as suggested by my colleague Joline McGoldrick, is rooted in the same desire for discovery that inspired an earlier generation who grew up with Choose Your Own Adventure?

To my mind Gen Z’s expectation of immediacy and control is going to last. Marketers must adapt if their advertising is going to be effective because while older generations might be slightly more accepting of interruption Gen Z is only willing to tolerate advertising if it is worth their time. But what do you think? What differences really matter? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Sigahl Silvera, January 23, 2017
    I'd love to see the full report but when I click "report" it brings me to the page to download report, but from there nothing happens.  How can I get the full report?  thanks.

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